Improving customer experience while ensuring data privacy for intelligent mobility

Lead Research Organisation: University of Surrey
Department Name: Computing Science


The proposed research applies computer science solutions to an end-user-focussed challenge. The challenge is how to achieve an enhanced customer experience during a journey, through detailed knowledge of an individual traveller, whilst protecting the privacy of their data. As well as developing technical solutions to data privacy, this project aims to encourage passengers to provide this data by developing an evaluation framework to enhance their understanding of how it is used and how they can control it, thus maximising trust in the service. Currently, such a framework does not exist and this is an impediment to the opportunities offered by increased sharing of personal data, i.e. transport customers are, in the majority, unwilling to share personal data due to privacy concerns. The research findings will be applicable to a range of journey modes but the focus here will be on rail travel.

The project has been developed closely with the rail industry through partnership with the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) and the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB). In recent years, the availability of data in the rail industry has increased significantly in terms of timetabling, disruption and real-time provision to passengers. Currently there is little in the way of individual customer information but this is increasingly possible through smartphones and other mobile devices and will become more prevalent with the introduction of smartcards and contactless technologies. The industry's Rail Technical Strategy aims to establish rail as customers' preferred form of transport for reliability, ease of use and perceived value. Increased understanding of passengers through information such as their location, their plans, their mobility or luggage limitations, or where they are on the train would enable a more personalised service and an improved experience. The challenge is to assure customers that their data is being protected and used appropriately and that they are fully in control.

The consortium assembled for this project brings together the three academic disciplines required to solve this challenge: computer science, to develop the framework and technical solutions (University of Surrey and Royal Holloway, University of London); human factors, to develop the use cases, evaluate passenger perceptions and ensure usable solutions (Loughborough University) and transport systems to bring understanding of the data streams to be integrated (University of Southampton). To ensure the solutions are co-created with the industry and have a direct pathway to impact, ATOC and RSSB have a key role as stakeholders and on the project's External Advisory board, alongside other sector experts such as EnableID (Internet of Things and personal data), the Transport Systems Catapult (the UK government's innovation centre for intelligent mobility knowledge exchange) and ThalesUK (rail technology).

The objective is to develop a privacy evaluation framework underpinned by statistical analysis, data provenance and mobile technology. This framework will be integrated with emerging data systems being developed by the rail industry and also into a wider (sector-independent) framework being proposed by the Digital Catapult (the UK government's innovation centre for digital technologies). This will enable better communication to passengers as to why their data is needed and how it will be handled in order to increase trust and feelings of control, thus providing a virtuous circle of data provision, leading to enhanced customer experience and hence further data provision.

Planned Impact

The technical innovation of a new privacy framework has the potential to impact on three key aspects of mobility: 1) It can help encourage a modal shift to more sustainable forms of mobility, and particularly a shift from car to public transport; 2) It can enable a greater understanding of privacy by consumers, and confidence that they have the means to control who does and not have access to aspects of their personal data; 3) It will help facilitate commercial opportunities for product and service provision to customers, associated with mobility.

The findings of this project - by helping to enhance the rail passenger experience and facilitate opportunities for commercial offerings associated with mobility - therefore have substantial benefits for many stakeholders within UK society and the UK economy. Environmental and societal benefits occur due to the transition to forms of transport that reduce carbon emissions and travel congestion. The potential shift towards public transport also helps to ensure that all members of the public (including those with disability, and those on low incomes) can benefit from mobility, without requiring the ownership or use of a private car.

Economic benefits arise due to the opportunity to develop products, and services in particular, that provide real benefit to consumers, related to their mobility. The key drivers for these will be the access to personal data that individuals will be more willing to provide, due to better understanding of privacy concerns, and effective means for ensuring control of data. These opportunities include services that are offered to customers, and underlying technologies such as smart billing and ticketless travel.

The tangible benefits to the public will be a better journey experience, and opportunities for accomplishing other activities that had not previously been possible. Rather than merely providing additional 'conveniences', the project will open up the opportunity for new 'freedoms' for consumers. These provide the opportunity to make public transport the mode of choice for individuals. Outside the rail sector, the new possibilities for enhancing the user experience in relation to mobility will apply to other modes of transport. Outside of transport, the new privacy framework will help enable the development of services based on personal data that were previously seen as unacceptable by consumers.

The initial beneficiaries of the research will be the project partners. Their findings will be disseminated to the wider academic community through workshops, conferences and academic papers. The project research team will work closely with commercial partners including ATOC, RSSB and Thales, and these partners will benefit directly through knowledge transfer. The project will also engage a wider selection of stakeholders who have interest in developing and delivering value-adding services for consumers. These wider stakeholders will gain a better understanding of the role that personal data plays in enabling these services, and will also be able to deliver these services based on the technological developments within the project.
Description The importance of data privacy has fed into two other projects: TOC Ability funded by rail innovation TOC 16, and Ilids funded by Innovate UK Accelarating Innovation in Rail and an EPSRC IAA project.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Transport
Impact Types Societal

Description Innovation in Rail 4
Amount £740,729 (GBP)
Organisation Innovate UK 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 12/2017 
End 11/2018
Description Innovation in Rail 5
Amount £475,285 (GBP)
Organisation Innovate UK 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2018 
End 09/2019
Description IoT for automatic consist recognition
Amount £30,409 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2019 
End 12/2019
Description RRUKA
Amount £120,697 (GBP)
Organisation Rail Safety and Standards Board 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2017 
End 11/2018
Description TOC 16
Amount £821,804 (GBP)
Organisation Railway Safety 
Sector Private
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2017 
End 11/2018
Title NFC protocol framework 
Description We have developed an NFC platform for evaluation of new nfc protocols on an Android platform. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2017 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact Supports evaluation of new privacy preserving protocols means to determine whether they meet the timing requests for transport application domains. 
Description Interaction with Transport for the Noth 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Influencing the decision making process for tender of a information system procurement which has GDPR and privacy implications.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017,2018
Description Presentation at UK Security Expo 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Presentation on Rail Security and the DICE project at the UK Security Expo 2016 (November) at Olympia, London as part of a special session on Rail Security.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Rail Industry Train Consist Recognition Industry Event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Presented research related to calculating train consist data using IoT devices to the rail industry and associated industrial partners.
This sparked a lively discussion around the various technologies with rail operators and SME organisations working in the rail industry.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018